Book review: Bad News for Refugees by Greg Philo, Emma Briant and Pauline Donald

Bad News for Refugees is the latest publication from the renowned Glasgow Media Group, which was originally established in 1974.

Employing content analysis and interviews and focus groups with asylum seekers, journalists and members of established migrant communities, the authors examine recent media coverage of refugees and asylum seekers in Britain. The research shows there is “persistent and overwhelmingly hostile coverage of refugees and asylum seekers in much of the national media.” Tabloids such as The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Express are the worst offenders, while the Guardian seems to come off best.

A number of misleading, popular myths dominate media coverage:  Britain is a soft touch; abuse of the system by asylum seekers is widespread; asylum seekers are a burden on the country. At the same time certain narratives and arguments are largely absent from the often hysterical reporting. The voices of refugees themselves rarely appear, likewise the role of Western foreign policy in creating refugees across the world. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 2012 Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia were the leading sources of refugees in the world. All three have been on the receiving end of significant Western military aggression in recent years.

Worryingly, the authors conclude that the ignorance-inducing media accounts “have a crucial impact in legitimising the hostility toward and bullying of the new arrivals.” And it’s not just refugees who are under – sometimes physical – attack. The focus group research suggests the media’s monstering of refugees can have an additional negative and destabilising impact on long-established migrant communities in Britain.

There are a couple of pages looking at the issue on the level of the newsroom, with one journalist noting “It’s not a meritocracy, it’s authoritarian – you do what you’re told.” However, while there are several references to the commercial interests of newspapers, I would have liked to have seen more discussion about what is driving the media’s vendetta against refugees. The Public Gets What The Public Wants seems too simplistic and self-serving to me. Also, how does the BBC’s often poor coverage fit with the argument that profits are central to the media’s unpleasant work?

These, though, are minor criticisms of an important book that is an essential corrective to the lies much of the media continue to spread about refugees. With master of the dark arts Lynton Crosby leading the Conservatives into the 2015 General Election, and the Labour Party trying to out Tory the Tories, you can be sure refugees will continue to get it in the neck for some time to come.

Bad News for Refugees is published by Pluto Press, priced £16.00.

Ian Sinclair is the author of ‘The march that shook Blair: An oral history of 15 February 2003’, published by Peace News Press.

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